Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7
Sermon Title: The Lord’s Vineyard
Memory Verse: I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
The Toil of Gardening
Imagine working a very long time to plan, and then plant a garden. You take time to survey your property and choose the best location. The soil is rich and will receive the perfect amount of rainfall. You spend hour upon hour removing rocks and place them as a stone wall around the perimeter. You plant hedges on top of the rock wall. You also use the rocks to build a tower, so you have a high-point to watch for predators and prevent them from harming the garden. You purchase choice pedigreed seed. Hours and hours of backbreaking work is spent to prepare the soil, remove rocks, and build the wall and tower. The preparation is complete.
The time to plant the seed arrives. You furrow the ground and plant row after row of seed exactly as it should be at just the right soil depth. Every day you hoe the garden to rid it of weeds. You take watch in the tower to make sure no animal eats the fledgling plants. Summer arrives, and it is a period of more weeding, night watches, and plant growth. You continue working through the summer.
You have the prize garden of New England. People travel for miles to see your work. Your YouTube channel has over a million views as people marvel at your garden.
Autumn arrives. The plants grow to full size and fruit begins to appear. There is excitement in the air as you expect to taste the fruit of your labor. Time for harvest arrives but, something doesn’t look right with the fruit. You walk in the garden and look at the fruit from a plant. It is rotten. You venture to another area to another plant. You hope only the first plant is producing worthless fruit. Your dreams dash as you discover every plant yields rotten, misshapen, grotesque, and inedible fruit.
Years of labor are gone to waste. There is no harvest. No return on investment. You know you are not to blame. The problem is the plant. How would you feel if this is your experience? What would you do with your garden?
The Lord’s Work
We understand hard work and what it means to expect a good result from our labor. But, only a few of us truly understand the disappointment of planting a garden and having no fruit. We are not people who garden as a way of life.
But, 2000 years ago, this story of the garden is understood by all the people of Judah. They are a society where gardening is the primary industry. The prophet Isaiah uses this story to help people understand their terms how God is expecting a return from His labor.
It’s as if Isaiah is saying, let me explain in a way that every person, even a child, will understand. There is no missing the point. God has worked to plant a vineyard and He expects the result of His labor will be good fruit.
But, God does not find good fruit in His vineyard. All God sees is blatant immorality, murder, and bloodshed. Instead of helping the orphan and the widow, people walk on by ignoring their needs. Poor people are oppressed. Government is corrupt. People worship idols and not God. Everyone is filled with prideful arrogance. Despite all of God’s labor to make it so the people of Judah may be righteous and good, people live as though God does not exist and they outright disregard His commands. The rotten fruit of sin fills the nation.
The people of Judah should be as beautiful and appetizingly good fruit. Instead, the people of Judah are worthless and rotten.
Before chapter five, Isaiah has not expressed his feelings. Isaiah begins the parable by expressing his love for God.
Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. (Isaiah 5:1)
God chooses a messenger who sees and understands and loves Him. Isaiah’s sees God as God should be seen; as a well-beloved treasure. To Isaiah, the Lord is good and puts a song in his heart. The passion and love shown by the prophet Isaiah enhance the prophetic message. He unashamedly speaks of his love for God. He might as well say, “How could you do this to the God I love so dearly? How could you reject such a beautiful, loving God?”
After expressing his love for God, Isaiah tells the story in one verse.
2 He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones. (Isaiah 5: 2)
Any student of the Bible knows what Isaiah is saying. God places the nation of Israel on a fertile hill, higher than the surrounding lands. It is the land of olive oil and flowing with milk and honey. The Lord removes all difficulties Israel may encounter, all the stones, which are the enemies who may hinder their fruitfulness. God gives Israel all that is needed to prosper in righteousness. He sets up kings, puts together a mighty army, and gives Israel a society with laws designed to promote healthy homes and business.
God’s backbreaking work of moving stones, planting a choice vine, building a tower for protection, and building a vat, results in worthless, poisonous, wild grapes.
Hebrew parables are to be understood as having one point, and the point of this parable is clear. God gives Israel all that is needed for a fruitful harvest of righteousness and holiness. All God sees from His labor is the evil fruit of immorality and corruption.
Render A Plea
After presenting a clear picture, God asks the people of Judah to render a plea. They are to decide what is the cause of this bad harvest.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? (Isaiah 5:3-4)
What is the problem? Could God have done more? Are there stones left unturned? Is the tower not tall enough? Is the land not fertile enough? Should God have chosen a different Promised Land? Is God wrong to expect a good harvest of a righteous and holy people?
The answer is obvious. There is nothing more for God to do because His work is perfect and complete. It is no fault of God. God is perfectly right to expect a fruitful harvest. The grapes are worthless because the people have gone wrong.
Those who are rebellious will still blame God. Prideful people never accept blame or admit they are wrong. But, those who are willing to repent will listen to God and accept that they are at fault. They know God is right and has done all that is needed. They are wrong not to bear good fruit.
The Lord’s Decision
Isaiah proclaims what the Lord will now do with His vineyard.
So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” (Isaiah 5:5-6)
God will not overlook the lack of fruitfulness of His vineyard. The people will pay for their disobedience. God, the gardener, will leave the garden. No longer will the vineyard be a beautiful garden tended by a loving caretaker. The protective hedge and walls will crumble allowing neighboring nations to enter and ravage and plunder the land. The Promised Land will be desolate because God will hold back His rain. The Lord will withdraw His presence, and their lives will be filled with heartache and troubles. Society will collapse without God’s hand to guide the people. The orderliness and decency of God’s caring cultivation will be given over to wild, prickly shrubs and thorn bushes.
The fruit of the men of Judah
The prophet leaves no question as to who are the participants in the parable.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. (Isa. 5:7)
The prophet Isaiah has spent the first four chapters telling of the sins God sees when He looks upon their nation. Now, the prophet tells of what God hopes to see, which is justice. He expects holiness and righteousness.
The Lord planted Israel to be a nation whose God is the Lord, and they were to reflect the attributes of God. They were to be a showcase among all the nations influencing the world for righteousness and justice. But, instead of the good fruit of holiness, the people of Judah shed blood and oppress the widow and orphan causing them to cry out for help.
What we may learn from this parable, and what is said in earlier chapters, is that God not only wants His people to be holy, but God expects His people to influence the world. Holiness is not passive. Holiness is active. God is looking for the fruit of being a positive influence which spreads through the world. Instead of being a positive influence, the people of Judah are no different than the surrounding nations.
Applying to Us Today
The book of Isaiah is written 700 years before Jesus, almost 3000 years before our time. It is written to Jews living in the Middle East, 5500 miles away. We are far removed. But, there are timeless principles in this parable that we may apply in our life.
Let’s ask a few questions to help us understand how we may apply this teaching to our lives today.
Does God work in our life?
The first question we must ask is, does God work in our life?
God rescues His people from the slavery of the Egyptians. God brings them to the Promised Land and establishes them as a blessed nation. He showers upon them with His goodness. God rids the Israelites of all their enemies. God makes a covenant with the Israelites and provides forgiveness of sin through the work of the Levitical priests. And, as the owner of the vineyard, God dwells with His people in the center of Jerusalem on Mount Zion.
God does an even greater work in the life of the Christian.
The Israelites are rescued from the earthly kingdom of Egypt. The Christian is rescued from Satan’s kingdom of darkness. The Christian is a former slave of sin, but God defeats the enemy of sin so that it has no power in our lives and we are free to live in righteousness. God removes the enemy of the grave and gives us the hope of eternal life. God places us in the highest of lands as we are made alive, risen, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. God dwells within us through His Holy Spirit and promises never to leave us or forsake us.
The work God does for the Christian is an eternal work in which we receive the surpassing riches of His grace in the ages to come. The Lord has done a great, mighty, and complete work in us.
There may be parallels to the work God does with the nation of Israel, but the magnitude of God’s work in the life of the Christian far outweighs the work He does for the people of Israel.
Yes, God works in our life.
Does God expect fruit from His work in the life of the Christian?
The next question is, does God expect fruit from His work in our life? God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God always expects fruit from His labor.
It does not take a great deal of thought to draw this conclusion: If God’s greatest work is the salvation of people through the sacrifice of His Son, of course, God expects fruit in the life of the Christian. God sends His Son to redeem people from destruction, and He expects this tremendous work to yield abundant, glorious fruit. Jesus says:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit ... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:5, 8)
We are expected to bear much fruit as disciples of Jesus. The bearing of fruit by the Christian brings glory to God because it is a result of His work.
Will God punish people today for not bearing fruit?
Most certainly God will punish people today for not bearing fruit. God will punish people two different ways in the age of the New Testament.
First, there is the punishment of those who refuse to receive the work of His hands. Listen carefully to the words of Jesus:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; … If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (John 15:1-2, 6)
Jesus references God as the vinedresser. Perhaps He intends His disciples to recall Isaiah’s parable.
For those who reject God’s covenant, which He offers to all people, if they refuse to abide in Jesus, those people will be cast into the fire and burned. This is the same punishment told of in Isaiah for the people in Judah who rebel against God’s call to repentance.
If you are here today, and you have not put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then this warning from Jesus applies to you. You will be gathered along with all those who refuse Jesus, and you will be cast into eternal flames. Jesus did not speak about something new. The punishment of eternal damnation for those who continue to rebel against God is spoken of from the beginning to the end of the Bible.
The second way God will punish is to correct those who don’t reject Him but do not produce the fruit which He expects. Jesus says this:
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)
God will discipline His people and remove anything and everything in our life which hinders us from producing the fruit He desires. God will conform us to make us like Christ. He will discipline us, but we are to expect the discipline so that we will bear fruit.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb. 12:11)
What fruit is expected of us today?
God takes us from the kingdom of darkness and places us in the kingdom of His light. The fruit of the light consists of goodness, righteousness, and truth (Eph. 5:9). God fills us with His Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and faithfulness (Gal. 5:22). God expects the fruit of our lips to give thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15).
The fruit God expects for us is the same God expects for the people He works in 2700 years ago.
God expects us to obey His commands (John 15:10). We are to bear the fruit of repentance and turn from our sin and obey God. We are to bear the fruit of loving one another (John 15:12). We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that we will walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
We are to be different, set-apart from the world. We are the salt of the earth and the city set on the hill. God works in the selfish make them examples generosity. The proud are made humble. The angry become peaceful. The deceitful become people who may be trusted. Those who are in Christ turn the other cheek and walk the second mile.
God’s work of salvation is for our good AND the good of the world. We are to be ambassadors for Christ, proclaiming to the world that those who live in disobedience to God are enemies of God. But, there is good news. God is willing to make peace with His enemies if they are willing to repent and follow Christ.
The most important fruit of our salvation is the fruit of the gospel. Mature trees bear fruit, and the fruit of a tree is the seed for more trees. Mature Christians help other people mature. Christian fruit is to do the work of evangelism and discipleship.
God chooses us as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who calls us out of the darkness and places us in the kingdom of His light.
We may not live in our little Christian bubble and avoid any attempt to influence the world. Attending church every week and reading the Bible does not guarantee we will bear fruit. The church and the Bible will nurture us so that we may bear more fruit. Bearing fruit requires us to put our hands and feet into action. Holiness is not passive. Holiness is active. If we are not evangelizing and making disciples, then we are not bearing fruit. The longer we are a Christian, the more fruit we ought to bear.
Render a Plea
God asks the people of Judah, “What more needs to be done? Why is it that when I expect the vineyard to produce good grapes does it produce worthless ones?” The obvious response is, “Nothing else needs to be done. Bearing good fruit is our responsibility.”
God expects us to answer the same today. Bearing fruit is our responsibility. The work of Jesus on the cross is enough to give us victory over sin and enable us to be righteous and holy. The Holy Spirit dwelling within can help us be bold with the gospel and give us an answer for the hope we have within.
God’s work is complete. It’s now up to us to bear fruit.
MAIN IDEA: Endeavor to produce the fruit of righteousness from the Lord’s work in your life.